Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Comments: Cities

Do you like cities? Are you fascinated by metropolises like New York, London, Singapore, Shanghai or Dubai? Then you might also enjoy "Cities", by John Reader.

The author knows a lot about cities, "the defining artefacts of civilisation". "We shape the city, then it shapes us", he claims.
Reader describes why cities were founded, why they grow or sometimes shrink and what kind of challenges they generate.

"The advent of the city as a centre of human activity freed ever increasing numbers of people from the burden of finding food and shelter for themselves, directly from the land". Cities provided "food, security and cultural environment". Naturally the book starts with the beginning of the cities, the first known settlements and their growth to regional metropolises, especially in Mesopotamia (today: Iraq and parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran) which were known as Ur, Uruq and Babylon.

Readers discusses intensely the influences of politics & the economy for founding and expansion of cities, that is: a Prince`s capital and a merchant´s place. Cities like Berlin owe their growth to the politics (Prussian kings) but many other grew because they become important centers for merchandise, such as London, New York and Singapore.

The Author describes further the snowball effect which leads some cities to grow into metropolises and global centres: "Financiers liked to congregate in regional and national cities, close to the ear of governments that controlled public finance, where legislative control of economic social affairs was exercised and might be lobbied". Along with the banks and the insurance companies came the headquarters of large industrial companies, the media and marketing agencies. He concludes that the driving forces are banking, accounting, management, law, journalism and advertisement.

We learn also about the immense tasks the growth of cities generate, especially for feeding the inhabitants of ancient Rome (at it`s peak one million!) with grain. Despite his ardor for cities Reader finishes his book with a slightly pessimistic undertone. He sometimes describes them also as "dangerous parasites, with a capacity to harm regions far beyond their own boundaries".

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